From the 30th June to the 2nd of July we set out to spend the weekend at Blouberg Nature Reserve's Tamboti Camp. Situated just over 120km from Polokwane, Blouberg Nature Reserve is well known for hosting the largest breeding colony of Cape Vultures in the world. We arrived at the reserve and quickly picked up our first species, namely Southern White-crowned Shrike, Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Black-headed Oriole, and Kurrichane Thrush to name a few, while preparing the area to put up some mist nets as we also wanted to do some bird ringing. Our first afternoon at Tamboti Camp also provided us with a few highlights such as Striped Kingfisher, both Retz's and White-crested Helmetshrikes and a drumming Bearded Woodpecker, all of which are relatively common in the reserve's broad-leaved woodland. Sitting around the campfire in the chilly night also delivered a few nocturnal birds, including Southern White-faced Owl, Western Barn Owl as well as African Scops Owl with its distinctive, froglike 'krruup' call.
Day two, up before the crack of dawn and the mist nets up and open shortly thereafter, we were in high hopes of catching and ringing a few of the local specials. Whilst waiting for our first catch of the day we picked up Southern Black Tit, Alpine Swift and Yellow-breasted Apalis. A quick scan in the sky for raptors revealed a kettle of the iconic Cape Vultures and while checking the mist nets we were rewarded with a Lesser Honeyguide and pair of Green-winged Pytilias. As the day progressed, the bird numbers picked up and so did the mist net captures. Some of the ringing highlights included Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Green Wood Hoopoe and a few Retz's Helmetshrikes. We believe we now know why they are called helmetshrikes. The group bond of helmetshrikes is extremely strong, and if one bird voices the alarm call, the others will come to its defence. As my dad was taking one of the captured Retz's out of the nets, he was attacked by the other members of the group. He was struck several times and one of the strikes on his head actually drew blood. Hence, it is a good idea to wear a helmet when working with these crazy birds! The undisputed highlight of the trip was a Southern White-crowned Shrike caught in a mist net with a partially swallowed worm snake in its mouth. We wrote a short note about this unusual record for Biodiversity Observations which can be viewed at http://bo.adu.org.za/content.php?id=333.
The weekend was beginning to take good shape but no trip to Blouberg Nature Reserve is complete without a drive to the Fig Forest – an approximately 15 km drive through lovely broad-leaved woodland and open bushveld. Here we spotted Grey Tit-flycatcher, Barred Wren-warbler, Brown-backed Honeybird and the first of the summer migrants, a single Lesser Striped Swallow on the 2nd July. We also saw a brave Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill probing several White-browed Sparrow-weaver nests. See http://bo.adu.org.za/content.php?id=330 for more information about this interesting observation. Overall the weekend was very successful and productive with a total of 72 species being recorded.